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Keeping your cool

Posted 21/08/2012 by sevans

It may be a balmy 30°C here this week in Philadelphia, but inside the air conditioned Convention Center most attendees at the 244th ACS meeting have opted to keep their jackets on. That fact has not stopped meeting organisers from laying on a session on what to eat to beat the heat, offering tips on how to acclimatize by eating the right foods. And rather than giving in to our cravings for ice cream, researchers report that we may be better to chew on a few chillis or enjoy a cool glass of beer instead.

Chilled foods do cause an initial lowering of body temperature, but ice cream is high in fats and protein which require lots of energy to burn up or digest – so making us warmer longer term, according to Shirley Corriher, a biochemist and author. Conversely foods like peppers and chillis, containing capsaicins and other spicy ingredients, have a cooling effect as they cause us to perspire and release body heat by evaporation when we sweat. Munching on water-laden fruits and vegetables is another good idea to replenish lost moisture in hot weather, added Sara Risch, principal of consulting firm Science by Design, while astringent compounds in teas and beer have the effect of making cells imbibe more water.

Elsewhere at the meeting, there was other dietary news that some commonly used flavour components are structurally similar to valproic acid, a prescription drug used to smooth out mood swings. Molecules in chocolate, various berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are well known to have positive effects on mood. However, researchers in California, and now at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, have turned to chemoinformatics to help them screen the structures of more than 1700 flavour ingredients for similarities to approved antidepressants – research that could lead to new nutritional supplements with beneficial mood effects, they reported.

Yet more food related stories included research to make prebiotic foods that nourish the friendly bacteria in our gut from plant biomass; a new version of the food additive methyl cellulose to increase satiety; a method of electrifying sweet potatoes to raise their antioxidant content; a study of coconut water as Nature’s own sports drink; the discovery that resveratrol in red wine may help improve balance in the elderly; and even a way of delaying the ripening of bananas by coating them with a superabsorbent hydrogel derived from shrimp and crab shell chitosan.

All that is still missing from my own wish list is a run-down of the foods to help me sleep better. Three days after arriving in the US I’m still getting up at three in the morning. As for today’s forecast from Philly, it looks like being another chilly one inside the Convention Center. Sounds like a good excuse for an ice cream to warm up.


Cath O’Driscoll, Deputy editor

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